He was conceived in a studio apartment attached to the projection booth of a movie theatre and raised in a movie theatre. Along the way, he worked every job in the theatre, from janitor to doorman to projectionist.
You might say Dan Harkins has show business in his blood.
The story of how Harkins Theatres grew from a single movie house in Tempe to the Southwest's largest independent exhibition company begins with Dan's father, Dwight "Red" Harkins. In 1933 at the height of the Depression, Red opened Tempe Arizona's first movie house, The State Theatre. By 1973, Red had built a chain of 5 movie theatres throughout the Valley. In 1974, Red passed away leaving his oldest son Dan, a junior at ASU and General Manager of the chain, as head of the family business. Although Dan was only 21, Red had taught him well. With a lifetime of experience in the theatre business, and an enthusiasm for the growth and change that was taking place around Phoenix, Dan was ready to build on his father's legacy.
Over the next three decades, Dan dedicated himself to two goals; expanding the Harkins business and enhancing the movie-going experience. Harkins Theatres began buying other local theatre chains, steadily increasing their number of screens. Once purchased, the theatres would be completely upgraded with state-of-the-art amenities. Harkins Theatres would become known for its innovative programming, digital sound systems, plush rocking chair seats, neon lobbies, and signature gourmet snack bars.
But for all the growth and modernization he inspired, Dan never forgot the simple magic of movies. During the 70's and 80's, Dan always looked for ways to make moviegoing an event. His introduction of midnight movies, conducting the world's longest-running 3D film festival (over a year) and creation of the popular and pocketbook-friendly Loyalty Cup and T-shirt program are just a few examples of how Dan quickly became an industry trailblazer by thinking outside of the box. He didn't stop there. In order to expand the variety of films available to local movie connoisseurs, he created Arizona's first foreign and art film program, a Harkins tradition that continues to this day. The renovated Valley Art Theatre and the Camelview are dedicated to showing these special releases.
Over the years, Dan has built a reputation as a leader and innovator, both in the theatre industry and the local community. He is an unprecedented three-time recipient of the nationally coveted Showman of the Year award. The American Institute of Architects awarded Dan the 1996 Community Vision award. He's also received the 1998 Arizona Business Leadership award for outstanding leadership and corporate growth and the 1999 Entrepreneur of the Year award. But perhaps more important to Dan are the awards his theatres garner from Arizona moviegoers: Best Place to Watch a Movie, Best Programming and Best Movie Snacks, to name a few.
Harkins' leadership and creativity goes beyond the world of movies. Over the past 20 years, Harkins Theatres has helped set a new standard for charitable giving in the Western U.S. through charity benefit premieres and screenings, souvenir and holiday gift sales and public service announcements on the movie screens. The company has helped many schools and organizations raise millions of dollars. Harkins Theatres has worked with dozens of groups, including Boys & Girls Clubs in Metro Phoenix, Oklahoma City and Denver, March of Dimes, Big Brothers Big Sisters, The Alzheimer's Association, Phoenix Children's Hospital, The Children's Center in Oklahoma City, The Humane Society and many more.
Today, Harkins Theatres is over 400 screens strong and growing. With annual attendance exceeding the capacity of Arizona's top 25 venues combined, Harkins is the Southwest's first choice for entertainment.
Father and son have come a long way since Red opened that first theatre in Tempe. And they're not done yet.